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April 06, 2022
The deadlift is the king of exercises. Nothing displays pure brute strength better than simply lifting heavy ass weight off the ground. The simplicity and functionality of this fantastic exercise have no rival, and it will always remain at the top of the best exercises. That being said, other wonderful exercises can be done in place of the deadlift. Perhaps you’re recovering from an injury, or maybe you are giving the deadlift a rest; there are several reasons why having a deadlift alternative can be a good idea. And that’s precisely what this article is going to cover - deadlift alternatives. These are the absolute best substitutes to use if you find yourself needing a change.
The deadlift is a full body compound exercise and one of the main foundational movements. While the emphasis is placed on the lower body, the deadlift truly works every single muscle in the body, specifically the posterior muscles and grip. The concept is as simple as it can be as it involves grabbing a loaded barbell on the ground and picking it up. It’s a bit more complicated when it comes to technique, but you can check out this deadlift article for a thorough breakdown on form. For the purpose of this article, you just need to know that it’s one of the primary fundamental movement patterns that everyone should be doing.
The primary movement pattern of the deadlift is hip extension. This simply means that the hips go from a flexed position to an extended position in a powerful manner. It also generally implies that the force created by the hip extension is the primary driver of the movement. This means that the primary movers of the deadlift are the posterior muscles, specifically the posterior chain muscles. However, that’s not all that’s worked. In fact, there are many upper body and lower body primary muscles trained during the deadlift including:
Still, literally all muscle groups are trained to some degree, generally in an isometric fashion.
While barbell deadlifts are fantastic and a fundamental movement pattern, there are several reasons why you might need a barbell deadlift alternative to turn to:
“Taking a break” from some movements can actually be what we need to crush plateaus. Whatever the reason is, know that it’s validated. The only excuse that isn’t acceptable is “because it’s hard” so if it’s not that, we want to arm you with the best exercises there are.
There are a lot of excellent hip extension movements. However, not all are qualified to replace the deadlift. For example, rope pull-throughs are a great hip extension movement but you aren’t able to load this exercise to the same extent as the traditional deadlift. Therefore, we are going to list the top exercises that could actually replace the deadlift if necessary, as they work the same muscles.
For some reason, the trap bar deadlift can get a lot of slack in the world of strength and conditioning. Even some highly respectable coaches throw shade at it for some reason. We really wish we knew why but we don’t. That being said, in our opinion, the trap bar deadlift is actually the ideal deadlift alternative as it solves many of the issues that prevent people from performing the deadlift.
For those who aren’t aware, the trap bar deadlift is a deadlift performed using what’s called a trap bar; sometimes referred to as a hex bar. It is composed of a large metal hexagon (which is why it’s called a hex bar) with two collars on either side. There is a handle system in the middle, which is usually raised to some degree. The lifter will then stand inside of the hexagon, bend down to grab the handles, then perform a deadlift.
However, there is a specific way to get as much hamstring and glute activation as possible. Again, as we want this movement to replace the deadlift, we want as similar a movement pattern as possible.
Step inside and get in a neutral stance with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. The best way to know how to stand is to simply jump. However far apart your feet are when you land is where you should stand. Be sure that you are standing in the middle of the hex bar so that your legs are in the middle of the handles. Next, you will hinge forward and bend over to grab the handles; at this point, aim to have your arms and shins almost in line with each other, similar to a conventional deadlift. Finally, you will sit back and straighten your back to tighten everything. At this point, your shoulders and arms will be in line with your shins while your shins are entirely vertical.
This is the starting position you want to be in to replicate the deadlift. To compare, another way to perform the trap bar deadlift is to let your knees come forward in front of your arms. This causes more knee flexion, which means greater recruitment of the quadriceps in a similar manner to a squat. To be clear, this is an awesome exercise but we want to replicate the deadlift, which means we want maximum hamstring and glute activation.
The last step is to then finally stand up with the load. While concentrating on pulling your hips forward to extend the hips, drive your feet down to propel your body up. Continue this motion until you are fully erect in the standing position. Next, come down in a slow and controlled manner in reverse; do the same movement pattern but going down. Or, you can also perform a controlled drop which means you give some tension and guidance as the bar drops.
Again, we love the trap bar deadlift. It is probably the best deadlift alternative to solve several issues. The main point is that the weight will pull down on the body rather than pull forward because the body is located in the middle of the load. In addition, since the handles are raised, the lifter will not need to bend down as much, creating a more upright torso. Together, this will drastically reduce the stress on the lower back from conventional deadlifts and it require less mobility.
While you may not realize it, the conventional deadlift actually requires a good deal of mobility to safely obtain a proper position. This is actually one of the issues many people have as they just can’t get low enough while also keeping a taut and straight spine. What happens is that their back may then bend so that they can reach the bar; obviously not a good thing.
Therefore, one of the greatest solutions is to simply raise the deadlift off the floor! In fact, elevated deadlifts are pretty commonly seen in strength sports, especially Strongman. This may either be because it’s the actual lift or an athlete may just want to give their lower back a break. Regardless, it’s a very easy fix that solves many problems yet delivers the same results.
To elevate the deadlift, you have two options:
When determining how high to pull from, there is no prescribed height. The best height to pull from is wherever it is that you can reach in a safe position. This may only be 2-4” so the range of motion won’t even be affected that much for most people. Regardless, assuming you don’t have the bar set up by your knee, there’s no reason to think you won’t get the exact same benefits from pulling from the floor.
After you have determined what height you want to pull from, you will perform the deadlift in the same fashion as if pulling from the floor. Get close to the bar so that the bar will be on your legs when you bend down. Be sure your shins are still vertical and that your shoulders are slightly in front of the bar so that the arms hang vertically when grabbing the bar. Mind you, we mean “vertical,” not “kind-of-vertical but at an angle. Get tight and then stand up with the load while focusing on driving your hips forward.
The elevated deadlift is a fantastic deadlift alternative as it’s virtually the same exact exercise while not being as demanding on the lifter’s mobility or lower back.
We have a whole guide on rack pulls, we recommend reading it.
Our next movement comes from the world of Strongman, the tire flip. An unconventional lift that packs a lot of power and benefits. To be fair, the tire flip is actually a bit different mechanically than a deadlift. It’s similar enough, and when combined with the grit required to manage a heavy tire, it will directly benefit your deadlift.
The main difference between a deadlift and a tire flip is that during the deadlift, the force applied is vertical. However, during a tire flip, the force applied is vertical AND horizontal. In other words, during the tire flip, you’re actually pushing up and forward at an angle rather than straight up. This is the reason we said the biomechanics are different. That being said, you often need to get much lower during a tire flip and place yourself in an awkward position. Further, an explosive hip extension is VITAL during the lift as you transition the tire from your knee to chest. Plus, flipping tires can be totally random as you never know how the tire will react or feel. This means that it requires an insane amount of muscle activation to maintain control.
The first obstacle is to find a tire. Recently, many gyms have started to actually carry decent size tires. If not, and you really want one, many junk yards actually give them away for free. Regardless, we will go over how to flip a tire, assuming you have access.
When setting up for a tire flip, you want to actually stand a bit further than you’d expect so that you can drive into it. Many first-time flippers will set up so they can lift it vertically. You do not want to do this as the tire will pivot away from you, meaning a lot of stress will be placed in your lower back if you don’t go with it. Therefore, find a position that allows you to get your chest on the tire while allowing you to push into it. Stick your hands under the tire to grab some tread. This can be difficult depending on the tire, so take some time and do your best to find a solid grip. You may need to move your body to accommodate your grip.
Once you find a good grip, situate your hips so that they’re low. Do your best to keep them under your shoulders, but this may not be possible depending on the tire. However, you do not want to have an overly arched back, so step back if needed. When ready, drive with your legs to propel the tire up at an angle. Remember, you’re pushing the object up and over, so your line for force needs to reflect this. Keep your chest on the tire as you continue to drive it up. Once the tire gets to about waist level, use your knee and hip extension to kick the tire up. You need to propel the tire high enough so that you can re-situate your hands so that they are now holding the tire with an overhand grip at your chest. This is the most challenging part of the movement and requires a powerful, fast movement. Once you get the tire up and re-situate your hands, you now just need to finish pushing it over.
As mentioned, the biomechanics are a bit different than a deadlift, but only the tire flip can replicate the grit and brute strength required in a deadlift. If you were to only do tire flips, your deadlift would definitely benefit from it.
One of the great things about landmine exercises is that they are extremely versatile and can be performed in any gym; unless you somehow find yourself in a gym with no barbells. If so...run!!!
That being said, all you need for a landmine exercise is a barbell and, ideally a landmine attachment. If you don’t have an attachment, you can use towels to stick in a corner or cut a hole in a tennis ball to stick the end in. You can also just stick into a corner of a wall if you don't care about scraping up the wall or beating up the barbell coating a bit. Regardless, once you set up your landmine, you’re good to go.
Load one end of the barbell with your desired weight and place it on the ground. Straddle the weights with feet shoulder width apart so that the end of the barbell is between your legs. Many people will do well by using a slightly wider stance than a conventional deadlift to perform the movement. Drop your hips and allow your body to sink down. Be aware that you want your torso to be more upright as in a sumo deadlift rather than bent over like a conventional.
You will likely need to drop relatively low, but you can also place the weights on an elevated platform to decrease the range of motion. Go down until you are able to grab the open space on the collar with both hands. There are several ways to do this, but the best method seems to be to grab the end with one hand so that the end of the barbell sits in the palm. Next, take the other hand and wrap it underneath to lock it in.
At this point, your shins should be vertical and with your back straight and shoulders pulled back. Also, remember that your torso should be more vertical, so your chest should be facing forward. Finally, you are going to stand up with the load. Remember that the barbell will pivot, so the load will move forward slightly as you stand up. This is why you want to start the lift slightly in front of the end. Regardless, you will likely need to play around for a few reps to get the feel and figure out what position fits you best.
The landmine deadlift is an excellent deadlift alternative because it’s so easy to set up and perform. While it’s a barbell movement, the load will still move on a fixed trajectory, making it easier to control. But don’t think that means it’s easy. These movements can be highly challenging, so don’t load the end of the barbell thinking it’s no big deal.
Under normal circumstances, these are usually used for volume work to assist the deadlift. However, you can also easily load up the collar for strength training.
Other Good Deadlift Alternatives:
At least in our books, conventional deadlifts almost exclusively a strength exercise. Therefore, we don’t believe you should ever really be doing more than 6 reps under normal circumstances. If you want to do hypertrophy work for your posterior muscles, there are better exercises to get the job done. This train of thought also applies to deadlift alternatives as they are being used to replace the deadlift. Therefore, we believe that you should always perform these with relatively high loads of >80%1rm in the rep range of 1-6. If you want to recover, just lighten the load. A common method to run a deload is rather simple and consists of keeping the same rep scheme but dropping the weight by 50%. Further, these will be your main movements to come at the beginning of your workout.
We just hooked you up with the best deadlift alternatives to work the same muscle groups. Not only will they deliver similar benefits, they are incredibly accessible (other than the tire lift), meaning that you can perform them in virtually any gym. This means that there’s no reason to entirely skip out on a deadlift exercise ever again. If you do feel like you need a break from deadlifts for whatever reason, use any of these deadlift alternatives to ensure continual progression. All of these will get you crazy strong!
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June 08, 2023
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